_debbiechan_ (_debbiechan_) wrote in bleachness,
_debbiechan_
_debbiechan_
bleachness

"I Can Protect Myself," (PG, Rukia, Byakuya, Kaien ) AND the subject of Orihime hate...


Chapter 268 was my favorite chapter in Bleach so far. It got me imagining what Rukia's life before she came to the Living World. This story tries to be as canon filler as it can be, given that Kubo-san has not revealed much about Rukia's true past and has only thrown out some details about her life in the thirteenth division.


I Can Protect Myself
by debbiechan


Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters of Bleach; Kubo Tite invented them.

Description: PG, Defining moments in Rukia’s Shinigami career before she comes to the Living World. Byakuya, Miyako, Kaien.

Warning: Post Soul Society arc spoilers.

This story was written in exchange for a little Hollow Ichigo figurine. (Yes, I write for toys) and is dedicated to Jaina.


**


“In order to spare Rukia from danger, he talked to the other captains to make sure of something…”

“Who did?”

“Kuchiki Byakuya-sama.”  ~ Pyon to Ichigo, chapter 202





Missing someone isn’t always a matter of someone being gone. When Rukia was adopted into the Kuchiki family, she walked into a familiar absence.

“Nobody tells me what to do!”
was what she’d snap at the District 78 boys. “I make the rules.” She bossed the boys around; she was their unofficial mother. She plotted their watermelon thefts and kept track of whose turn it was to eat the rind. Only Renji could challenge her status because he was fast enough to dodge her hard-pitched kidou blasts. Renji and Rukia argued often, but everyone knew Rukia had the final say.

None of the District 78 boys could remember their living mothers and neither could Rukia, but she felt the absence of one. She missed someone telling her what to do. There were echoes of “be careful!” when she climbed a high tree. When she felt sick or sad, her head felt a touch, light as a breeze, given by a kind someone … Rukia just couldn’t remember who that someone was.

As Rukia grew older and the boys died off, one by one, she assumed that the kind someone was an imagined entity.

She missed her nonetheless.

“Rukia,” said Byakuya in his solemn sonorous voice. “The enlistment matter is settled. There will be no exam for you.” He held a shiny pink shrimp between his chopsticks. “You’ve been assigned to the thirteenth division.”

Here, among royalty where fruits were peeled and cubed before they touched Kuchiki painted porcelain dishes and where no watermelon included the slightest sliver of rind, Rukia still missed that kind someone. She felt an absence of family--at least with Renji and the boys, she’d had family. Here, a new member of the most noble of noble houses in the Seireitei, she longed for a protector more than she had in the dust and poverty of the South Valley of the Runkongai.

She would never admit that, though; she was a Shinigami now.

“Because of your name, you were exempt from the academy graduation exam and the unit enlistment exam.” Byakuya didn’t look at Rukia as he spoke. “You will, however, have to prove yourself for a division seat.”

Rukia picked at her fruits and vegetables. Never having stolen much meat as a child, she never acquired a taste for it. The cook indulged her, but Byakuya had insisted that she try the eel tonight. Refusing her brother would have been an insult, and Rukia felt queasy from the memory of slippery flesh in her mouth.

“Byakuya-sama, what does the girl have to do to get a good seat? Is there a contest?” Byakuya rarely talked at the table but the cook did. She put a plate of steaming fish in front of Rukia. “Eat, eat. Not eating meat will stunt your growth.”

“Recruits display their skills during the enlistment ceremony,” Byakuya said. “If the captain and his vice see someone with talent, that Shinigami will be given a seat.”

“Ooh, a ceremony!” The cook clasped her hands. “You’ll be so proud of Rukia when she joins the ranks. Is there music? Is there a processional?”

“I never attend these things,” Byakuya said. “Families of the new recruits make an indecent amount of noise.”

Byakuya’s expression never changed--that fact in itself terrified Rukia.

“Organ meats tomorrow,” Byakuya told the cook. “Prepare the unagi any way you like.”

When the cook was gone, Rukia dared a question. She wasn’t sure if her brother was going to tell her all she needed to know, if she needed to find things out on her own, or if not asking would be disrespectful in some way.

“Am I supposed to do anything special for the ceremony? I didn’t attend the last academy classes so I don’t know.”

“Just show up,” Byakuya said. He put down his chopsticks. “Rukia, at what type of fighting do you excel? Hand to hand, kidou, or swordsmanship?”

Rukia didn’t think she excelled at anything and she was nervous about entering the Gotei 13 at all. The thirteenth division? She couldn’t remember having heard anything about its captain at the academy. Would the captain be severe and unapproachable like Nii-sama?

“Of all the fighting methods,” Rukia said, “I’m best at kidou.”

“And you’re poorest at?”

“Swordsmanship.”

“I know Captain Ukitake well, and he looks for mastery of swordsmanship when choosing seats.”

Byakuya turned to look at Rukia, and she startled at the attention--he never looked at her.

Kuchiki Byakuya had a hauntingly expressionless face, dark blue eyes, and unusually pale skin that the cook said needed the fortifying effects of eel. “Do not emphasize your kidou over everything else or Captain Ukitake will know what you’re doing.” He spoke in a soft but commanding voice. “Emphasize your swordsmanship.”

Byakuya turned away, and it was if he had never looked at her.

“This is my request of you,” he added.

“Yes, Nii-sama.”

Rukia looked at her food and dreaded making a fool of herself before her new captain. There were at least a dozen Shinigami from her class whose swordsmanship far surpassed her own, and if Rukia didn’t score a rank in the division seatings, she will have made the House of Kuchiki look bad.

It would be an insult to Nii-sama to refuse his request. That much Rukia understood about nobility.

I’m going to fail Nii-sama.


Later, in her soft futon, Rukia stared at the ceiling and wondered why she and Renji had wanted this life within the Seireitei so much. An uncertain life, one without rules and demands, had been easier. Here, so many people told you what to do.

Yet, Rukia wanted to be told what to do. Everywhere there was that absence--not of authority but of a strong, kind presence that she needed--no, wanted--in order to feel safe.

Past lives, past parents. It did no good to speculate about these things.

I am a Shinigami. In a Shinigami’s heart there is no room for fear, for lack of confidence, for neediness.

**


When vice captain Shiba Kaien walked into Rukia’s life, Rukia thought she had found a protector. Soon, though, she realized that Kaien-dono was someone who encouraged her to protect herself.

She had indeed made a fool of herself at the enlistment ceremony. The spiteful looks from recent academy graduates told her that she would always be resented for being a Kuchiki. The puzzled look on Captain Ukitake’s face said he was questioning his agreement to let Rukia forgo the enlistment exam. And Renji, exchanging bows with new division members … completely ignored Rukia. Or maybe he’d pretended to ignore her so she wouldn’t have to know that he’d seen her disgraceful swordsmanship.

Life used to be fun,
she’d thought as she watched Renji from a distance.

One more evening of self-doubt, loneliness, and Byakuya’s refusal to look at her when she told him she hadn’t placed for a seat, and then Rukia stepped into the warmth and camaraderie that was the thirteenth division.

“Like this,” Kaien said as he put his hand over Rukia’s. “Basic defense posture. You’re small so you have to lift your sword higher to match your opponent’s chest.”

His grip was strong. His voice was insistent.

“Weight on the forward knee and stretch that back leg as far as you can.”

Rukia tried. When she wasn’t successful, Kaien grabbed her thigh and yanked it into the proper position.

“There you go.” Kaien’s laugh was the friendliest sound Rukia had ever heard. “Fight low. You’ve got a great advantage in that people will underestimate you because of your size.”

Happiness. Rukia could not remember ever having been so happy.

It wasn’t long before the happiness Rukia felt around Kaien turned heavy. She knew the feeling for what it was: jealousy. She had never felt jealous before, and the heft of the emotion knocked her off balance. But because Kaien was mentoring her, Rukia now excelled at recovering her center of gravity.

She could balance her emotions as well as her first defensive stance.

She would smile at the wise and beautiful Shinigami. She would tell herself that she admired rather than envied her. She would feel affection. She would marvel at her skills and her well-deserved position as third seat. She would make an idol of Kaien’s wife.

One day the sun was hot and the wind wasn’t blowing. Evening was hours away but already the unit was settling into the feeling that the day’s work was over. Kaien’s wife was serving as a temporary battle commander because the captain was ill and the vice-captain was on an important errand. Miyako hadn’t been drilling the division much--she was taking time to get to know the new recruits better.

“He seems like such a boy,” said Miyako to Rukia. Kaien’s wife was smiling a fond smile. “We assumed that he was a brat because he’d flown through the entire academy curriculum in one year. When he joined the division, though, he had this way … of taking charge without anyone minding.”

Rukia sipped her beer. Despite its reputation for jocularity, the thirteenth division wasn’t a hard liquor division like the eleventh. Downtime like this was rare, but it and field practice didn’t seem much different; Kaien could make the dullest routines feel like a Bon festival dance.

“He’s perceptive,” Miyako said, and her eyes met Rukia’s. “I’d say he’s even better than Captain Ukitake at understanding what individuals in his division need.”

Rukia flustered under Miyako’s gaze. She had to look away and past her beauty when responding. “Yes, I know what you mean. He gets soft and then hard at all the right times.”

Argh! Stupid!
Rukia, whose mind had been full of sexual ideas ever since entering the thirteenth division, blushed at her last remark. Stupid, stupid. Why can’t you ever say anything intelligent like Miyako-san?

“If he thinks you deserve a seat,” continued Miyako, “then you deserve a seat. He understands fighting potential.”

There was no other reason for Kaien, Rukia thought, to be paying so much attention to a lowly subordinate. He trained her more than he did anyone else. Still, she doubted. The top graduates from her class were in this division.

“Kaien didn’t tell you that you were a good fighter just to make you feel better. False encouragement to a warrior can be a dangerous thing--”

“Oh no,” Rukia started. “I wasn’t implying that Kaien-dono didn’t know what he was talking about! I just meant that I myself do not see what he sees. My kidou is very good but--”

She was interrupted by a flurry of dust and leaves when Kaien shunpou-ed between the two women.

The vice captain swept one hand through his spiky black hair, put the other on his hip and, not taking notice of Rukia, began talking. “You wouldn’t believe it, Miyako. There’s nobody icier in the Seireitei and I’m including Captain Shiro-chan. He’s … he’s … a goddamn, stuck-up, prissy-haired, pink-scarfed, impossible--”

“You’re talking about my brother aren’t you,” Rukia said.

Kaien made a wry face. He’d been caught bad-mouthing family of one of his charges. “Oh, I’m sorry. What a terrible thing for me to say….”  He looked Rukia in the eye. Once he’d affirmed that she wasn’t offended, he added, “All true stuff, though. Your brother is an irritating guy.”

Rukia shrugged her shoulders and felt sorry that Kaien-dono had had to deal with him. “I don’t understand Nii-sama, but I think he wants it that way.” She cringed at the picture of her noble brother confronted with Kaien’s open friendliness.

“Kaien,” Miyako said, “if you have your answer from the higher-ups, you may as well break the news to Rukia now.”

Rukia eyebrows rose and she felt a little afraid.

“Hmmm.” Kaien narrowed his eyes and put his hand on Rukia’s shoulder. “It’s good news, girl. You’re shipping out of here. You’re going to be assigned to Shinigami duty in the Living World.”

Rukia knew that she wouldn’t get a seat; Kaien-dono had been crazy to think he could talk the captains into allowing an early promotion. But a Living World assignment? Living World duty was by and large easy work for foot soldiers. Had her brother been telling Kaien-dono how unsuited for mission work she was? Kaien had faith in her, but Byakuya didn’t.

“You’ll be one of three new Shinigami and some seated guy from the fifth who trains Living World appointees.”

A Living World assignment. Nii-sama would not be pleased.

“It’s for basic experience,” Kaien continued. “You’ve got to prove yourself in the field. Once you come back, we’ll work on that second dance of yours. You’ll be part of a mission unit someday. You’re talented, Rukia.”

Miyako gave Rukia a look that said she agreed. “I was assembling a unit today. There’s a Hollow that’s been terrorizing training grounds. He’s taken out three Shinigami this week.”

Rukia widened her eyes.

“All units so far have retreated, so he must be a real problem,” said Kaien. “I was going to tell the division about this badass thing but there was no need for everyone to be jumpy too soon. They’ll know today though--this one’s a sneak and everyone needs to be on guard.”

“You will be careful,” said Miyako to Rukia. “I trust you to look out for your comrades.”

Rukia thought that it would be she who needed looking after. Can you fight a truly large Hollow with kidou alone?

“Don’t give me that look,” Miyako said. “I was waiting for Kaien to come back and say that he could promote you up the ranks. I was going to order you to join tonight’s mission.”

Rukia gasped. “Me?”

Miyako put her hand on the guard of her zanpakutou and raised her chin. “Work on the confidence. Like Kaien said--a little experience and you’ll be back here as an officer.”

“You’re dismissed, soldier,” Kaien told Rukia with a smile.

Rukia bowed and as she was walking away, she heard Kaien telling Miyako that his unit was going to get that Hollow before her unit did. Even when Rukia had walked some distance, she could still hear them laughing.

**

The matter of someone being gone doesn’t mean that he will be missed. As time goes by, the memories are no longer part of the loss; they fill the absence.

But Rukia could not acknowledge her loss. She tried not to think of the things she’d seen in the darkness. Kaien is gone. That thing wasn’t Kaien. Kaien is not coming back. She wouldn’t remember the worst of it but neither would she allow herself any comforting memories.

After she returned what was left of Kaien-dono’s body to his family and after what was left of Miyako was scheduled for a large military funeral, the very fact that husband and wife were not buried together grieved Rukia more than the deaths themselves.

Rules, traditions, protocol. None of it should matter in a case like this one, but the Shibas wanted their boy back, and Miyako’s family would not budge on the issue of a burial within the Seireitei walls.

It was at the funeral that Rukia realized she hadn’t truly said goodbye to her mentor. Other members of the division were crying freely, and their tears seemed appropriate--Kaien never thought ill of displays of emotion.

As the torch lit Miyako’s spirit body, Rukia felt the worst of the memories surface. Weeks ago, on a girlish train of thought, she’d wondered what it would be like if Miyako died on a mission and if Kaien would turn, in his loneliness, to his favorite subordinate….

I loved him like that? I loved him that selfishly once?

Rukia choked back a sob, but she would not cry. She could not feel great grief for Kaien--only a disgust with herself.

She met Captain Ukitake’s eyes. He was kind and good and not crying.

Renji stood next to his captain and nodded when he saw Rukia.

Nii-sama looked at no one.

As smoke turned from gray to glowing blue and the spirit body became part of the swirling reishi around it, Rukia told herself that this was the last day she was going to feel absence.  For one vulnerable moment she remembered the loss of the district 78 boys and the loss of Renji’s friendship, She remembered the kind imagined family that was never there and she felt the loss of the only family she had ever known--the thirteenth division.

Goodbye, comrades, I leave for the Land of the Living soon. Goodbye Miyako….

That’s as far as she got.

She could not say goodbye to Kaien.

She would not say goodbye because she refused to feel the loss. She would not allow herself to feel another loss like that again. No, she would be the confident, able Shinigami Kaien believed she could be. She would show everyone--her brother, her division, Renji--that she was a capable and fearless Hollow killer and that she deserved a seat. From this moment on, she would need no protector, no mentor, no brother--

Byakuya’s voice broke her thoughts. “See, Rukia.” His mournful voice was not unique to funerals. Rukia had heard him speak in no other way since she was introduced to him.

“Yes, Nii-sama?”

“You would not have had the chance to be promoted if you’d gone on that mission.”

Rukia knew that--she would be dead along with Miyako’s unit. But then she wouldn’t have had to do what she did to Kaien that night.

“If you stay in the ranks, it’s only a matter of time before you’re slain.”

Smoke and spiritrons began to drift their way.

“The Living World assignment,” he said, “suits your menial fighting capability.” He turned, his scarf waving behind him.

Rukia stood her ground and did not feel humiliated.

I’m stronger than you know, Nii-sama. I can protect myself from being hurt by you.

Did he know that his words were cruel? Why did he adopt her if he truly disliked her?

She watched the billowing of his scarf in the spring breezes as he walked away. That noble scarf had a long name--ginpaku kazano-hana usuginu--and it suited him and his elegant detachment. Rukia noticed that he’d left before ashes and spiritrons could touch his person.

Has does he survive loss? Look how he strong is. Maybe he’s strong because he’s never lacked for a single thing his entire life.


A current of dissolving spiritrons passed. The blue glowing wind lifted strands of Rukia’s hair.

She felt a touch, light as a breeze, given by … a kind someone?

I will be the person you wanted me to be, Kaien-dono.

She watched Kuchiki Byakuya until he was out of sight.

Goodbye, Nii-sama.



END



Oh hope that wasn't TOO sad.

Anyway, next subject-- many of my dear friends are whipping up the Orihime hate lately. Not that I can't understand. Rukia's last thoughts are about Orihime and so far the princess in the tower has only thanked "Kurosaki-kun." Remember--Orihime is love and kindness. She's 16 and sweet. She's (stupidly) in love with Ichigo and she hasn't had her moments of self-realization like Rukia has in 268. She hasn't woken up to the fact that Ishida is there for her.

So please, if you can't be as generous as Rukia was as she fell, bleeding, for Orihime, then try to remember that Orihime's not at all a villain--she's just a girl. And a very flawed girl who doesn't yet know her own strength. She will soon, though. You'll see. She will win your respect one day.
Tags: byakuya, i can protect myself, kaien, rukia
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